By Nilanjan Datta,
AIFF Media Team
NEW DELHI: The next batch of the Indian Arrows has already resumed their preparatory camp for the forthcoming edition of the Hero I-League 2021-22 in Bhubaneswar. In a freewheeling interview Head Coach Shanmugam Venkatesh opens up with Indian Football about the current batch, target for the season, Indian Arrows as a platform, the next edition of the AFC U-20 qualifiers, support from Odisha Sports, and much more. EXCERPTS:
How is it being back with the Indian Arrows?
It feels great to be back with the young boys, especially after the stint with the Senior Men and the U23 boys. It’s a big motivation to be working together with the next generation, and I feel happy. It’s nice to be back in Bhubaneswar.
Why did you choose Bhubaneswar as the venue for the camp?
The support from Odisha Sports has been exemplary. I would like to thank them for the kind of infrastructure and support that has been provided to us. Moreover, we are also extremely grateful for being allowed to start this pre-season camp during such difficult times. It wouldn’t have been possible without the support from Odisha Sports. The facilities here are among the best in the country, and Odisha is an ideal place for the team’s preparation. I look forward to coming back to Odisha after the Hero I-League for our preparations for the AFC U-20 qualifiers, and other competitions.
How have you zeroed down on the boys at the camp? Will you add more boys in the coming months?
As per the pathway followed in the AIFF Academy system for the development age-group players, 6 players from the 2003-04 born batch which had qualified for the AFC U16 Finals (unfortunately the Championship got cancelled owing to the pandemic) under Bibiano (Fernandes) are training with us. In addition, there are some other boys from the same batch who are currently with their respective clubs in the Hero I-League. Understanding that they may not be getting the same amount of game time in their clubs as Indian Arrows, we have approached the clubs. If the clubs release them, we will have a look at them and take a call.
In addition, we also have the option of roping in boys from the 2005 batch which are currently training in Bhubaneswar under Shuvendu (Panda). Not to forget, we also have some of the boys from the last edition too. Furthermore, we have also scouted for some players, and they are currently training with us.
The Indian Arrows has always been a revolving door – we always keep on looking for players. I want to appeal to all football aficionados to help us with names of talented players about whom they are aware of, or have spotted.
Looking back, what do you make of Indian Arrows as a platform for the development of Indian Football?
Indian Arrows is a great platform to address the transition phase and get them prepared for the Senior side. As we saw in the recent U23 AFC qualifiers, most of the players were a part of the Arrows setup with a lot of experience and exposure. A lot of them have also made their appearances for the senior NT and are playing regularly in professional club competitions. The Arrows allow sufficient game time, which otherwise would have forced most of the boys to warm the benches in their respective clubs.
Being a former India captain, do you believe that such a platform would have helped your batch – the likes of Bhaichung, Mahesh, Climax, Abhishek, Dipak, yourself, and many others?
Such a setup would have helped us to be even better. As everyone is aware about the number of exposures the Arrows set-up offers, it is extremely beneficial for the development of players at a young age to prepare them for Senior National Team and professional club competitions. The U-23 NT is a great example of how the Arrows structure has helped the players improve by having those exposures, and the experience at youth level. All of them are on display at the Senior, and U23 level.
How much will it help that the batch who will be playing in the AFC qualifiers will also get substantial match time in the Hero I-League?
The Hero I-League will play a vital role in our preparation as the competition is high pressure one against experienced and physically stronger players, even foreign recruits. Playing against senior team players is always a good experience leading to the AFC qualifiers.
Do you have any targets in mind for the Hero I-League?
In the previous season the players were not experienced with a proper level of competition leading to them being a part of the Arrows. But this year, with all the experience, and having kicked-off our preparations early, our target is to win as many matches as possible. At the same time, we intend to put on display a good quality performance to finish among the top teams in the League. However, our ultimate target still remains the AFC Qualifiers, and looking beyond.
Will you be playing any practice matches prior to the Hero I-League?
We have been training in Bhubaneswar for the pre-season. We will also be participating in the IFA Shield in Kolkata as a build-up to the Hero I-League. The IFA Shield will allow us to gauge where we stand, and the areas we need to focus upon. Apart from the IFA Shield, we have planned to play two matches with the Odisha, and Sikkim senior state teams in Bhubaneswar.